industry is known for its pretty faces, rail-thin figures, skin as smooth as
polished marble and smiles like staring into the brightest star. But what is a
galaxy with only one star? What is the fashion world with only one color?
Fashion Week is like the Super Bowl to the catwalk-savvy populace. But runway after runway, only one “color” seems to be fashionable each season – Caucasian. In a study by Jezebel Magazine, for this year’s Spring Fashion Week in New York City, N.Y., 82.7 percent of models on the field were caucasian. Sitting on the sidelines, 9 percent were of Asian decent, leaving African American models as the waterboy at a measly 6 percent. Now, not only do teenagers have to worry about being pretty and thin enough to be a model, they also have to worry about if their skin color is right, too.
One group decided to take the issue to the source. In a letter to the heads of fashion weeks in New York, Paris, Milan and London, the Diversity Coalition called the industry out on its lack of colored models.
“Eyes are on an industry that season after season watches design houses consistently use one or no models of color,” the letter said. “No matter the intention, the result is racism. Not accepting another based on the color of their skin is clearly beyond ‘aesthetic’ when it is consistent with the designer’s brand. Whether it’s the decision of the designer, stylist or casting director, that decision to use basically all white models, reveals a trait that is unbecoming to modern society. It can no longer be accepted, nor confused by the use of the Asian model.”
The letter contained a list of fashion designers whose model selections paled in comparison to the actual diversity in society. The Council of Fashion Designers of America received a list of 19 female and seven male designers. France topped all three with 23 females and 21 males.
While this may be news to the general public, for people of color who have worked in the industry for a number of years, this is life. Beverly Johnson, former African American model and fashion mogul, was faced with racism on a daily basis.
“[It happened] all the time,” Johnson said to “Women’s Wear Daily.” “I’d be on a modeling assignment with a white model and we’d be taking the same amount of pictures, wearing the same number of outfits, but she’d be paid one amount and I’d be paid another, lesser amount. Once I understood, I began brushing up on my history. I learned that this was a challenge I would have to face daily in my life.”
Although it seems there has been multiple attempts throughout the years for a reform in the fashion world, the dresses, scarves and skirts all continue to be donned without people of color. Since 2008, caucasian models have continued to hold the 80 percent bracket, while everyone else fends for their part of the mostly eaten pie.
Why, is the question. What is the reasoning behind this seemingly obvious racist activity? Could it be ideals held by the designers? It wasn’t too long ago that one label came under fire due to a racist outburst by John Galliano, Dior designer. His offensive outburst was caught on camera.
“I love Hitler,” Galliano said to two women of color in a French coffee shop in 2011. “People like you would be dead today. Your mothers, your forefathers, would be f***ing gassed and f***ing dead.”
This got Galliano fined €6,000, or $8,400 US dollar equivelant, by a French court for giving a racist verbal assault. The designer was also dropped from Dior. However, just two years later, Galliano was welcomed back into the fashion world with open arms.
Surely, this could not be the shared ideals of everyone in the fashion world, could it? Didier Grumbach, president of the Chambre Syndicale, was puzzled by the letter he received by the Diversity Coalition. The Chambre put on Paris’ Fashion Week. One Grumbach said they would showcase designers of 22 nationalities, five continents and be displayed in close to 100 shows. From the live coverage, however, their models still lacked skin pigment.
Will the runways ever have more to show than pretty, ivory faces? History says no. The models say no. The designers’ actions, though they deny it, say no. Only time will tell if the letter sent to the heads of Fashion Weeks around the world will make skin color next season’s “must have.”